Culture, Cosmology and the Multiverse

Theoretical physics has brought us the notion that our single universe is not necessarily all there is. The “multiverse” idea is a hypothetical mega-universe full of numerous smaller universes, including our own.

~Nancy Atkinson, Senior Editor, Universe Today

Look at All the Smart People

OK, that gives me a headache. The whole universe is made up of other, itty-bitty universes? What is Ms. Atkinson smoking?

But wait! She’s only channeling other learned ones of science. Folks like Max Tegmark, professor at MIT. And then there’s Sir Roger Penrose, English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, and the list goes on. I know the list goes on because I was planning on mentioning some others, with all their academic credentials– but sheesh! That’s a lot of bandwidth. Just go to Wikipedia and search “multiverse.” There’s a boatload of very smart people listed there. And they all think there is good reason to believe there is more than one dimension. It is true what Scientific American said in an article summary: “Parallel universes [are] not just a staple of science fiction. Other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations.”

Why am I posting in the rarified air of theoretical mathematics and physics? Is it because I know a lot about these things? Yeah, right. I can’t even understand what I think I know.

Maybe the Ancients Got it Right

But here’s the thing: Historically, most cultures (maybe all) hold to the existence of unseen realms, or cyclical patterns that transcend the reality that we live in. Humans tend to believe in a multidimensional universe. They don’t lay out complex computations, speculate on string theory, or think deeply about the influence of black holes on space-time, they just dig into their cultural consciousness and try to explain their connection to eternity.

Non-theists may propose that humans do that because of an evolved instinct for self-preservation; that our capacity to conceptualize mortality compels us to create an orderly system that accommodates our need to survive; a system that assures we can go on living.

That is a convenient, if logical, way of making a supernatural explanation seem parochial, quaint, or primitive. My retort might be that humans have always had an overdeveloped sense of their own importance, which might well make them more comfortable with an accidental universe than one in which they must be accountable to something higher than themselves, but that’s a topic for another day.

The other option may be that we humans are born with an innate sense of the multiverse hardwired into our circuitry. As salmon know, somehow, where to return to spawn, we know that we have a reference to the eternal. It comes out in our cosmologies, our cultural memory.

Here’s why I’ve been thinking about these things. Given that some pretty smart people (that is to say, a lot smarter than I am) are speculating about fantastic possibilities, doesn’t that leave room in the multiverse for heaven? Isn’t it at least possible that, in the smorgasbord of dimensional planes and alternative universes, there is a realm outside of time and space populated with life forms of fundamentally different stuff? Concepts like “heaven” and “angels” may sound primitive, but what if they are shortest distance—quaint and parochial—between here and the multiverse.

Just thinkin’.